Around 100 shop workers from the Co-op Group have launched an equal pay claim against the retailer. The first hearing for the claim took place on Friday, 24 January at the Manchester Employment Tribunal.
The employees who started the case, mostly women, argue that their work is of equal value to that of employees who work in the retailer’s distribution centres, the majority of whom are men. Two thirds of the Group’s store staff are female.
Similar actions were launched last year against other retailers. The staff are being represented by law firm Leigh Day, which has ongoing equal pay claims on behalf of over 40,000 workers at Asda, Tesco, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s.
The law firm says the difference in hourly pay for a shop floor worker and a distribution centre worker at the Group can range from £1.50 to £3. They believe the average worker could be entitled to £10,000 in back pay up to six years.
However, these estimates are based on a full-time employee, having worked for the Group for six years. The majority of the retailer’s store staff work part-time and stay with the retailer for three and a half years.
Co-op Group store employee Christine Green, aged 57, of Pointon, Lincolnshire, was one of the women to start the equal pay case. She has been with the Co-op for six years, first at the store in Billingborough, and now at the Sleaford store.
She said in a press statement: “I enjoy working at the Co-op, it’s a great place to have a job. But the way I look at it, those of us who work ‘front-of-house’ on the shop floor, deserve a fair wage for what we do. And to my mind, that means equal pay with those workers in the distribution warehouses.
“In our jobs we are under constant pressure; I want equal pay for everyone working front-of-house. The Co-op needs to ask, are we being fair to all the people we are employing?”
Michael Newman, a partner in the employment team at Leigh Day, said: “In the stores women are more routinely employed to work on the shop floor and deal with customers. Those working in the warehouses are overwhelmingly men. Despite equal pay laws being in place for almost 50 years, the group that is mostly men gets paid more. We say this cannot be lawful.
“Our clients believe that the jobs have comparable demands, and similar responsibilities. Co-op rely on both the male and female workers to make sure that they can sell as much food to their customers as possible, and the female workers have the additional responsibility of dealing with the public. This case is not about whether the jobs are identical; it is saying they are of equal value.”
A spokesperson for the Co-op Group, which runs more than 2,500 local, convenience and medium-sized stores, employing 70,000 people, said: “ We have received a small number of equal pay claims. Unlike some of the bigger food retailers, we do not have large scale multiple claims.
“It wouldn’t be appropriate to comment on individual claims, but we will be defending these claims and are confident that our reward practices are fair.”
The hearing continues.